London is the world town, not because of its vastness; it is vast because of its assimilative powers, because it destroys all race characteristics, insensible and, as it were, anaesthetically. A Polish Jew changes into an English Hebrew and then into a Londoner without any legislative enactments, without knowing anything about it. You may watch, say, a Berlin Junker, arrogant, provincial, unlicked, unbearable to any other German, execrable to anyone not a German, turning after a year or two into a presentable and only just not typical Londoner, subdued, quiet in the matter of collars, ties, coat, voice and backbone, and naturally extracting a ‘sir’ from a policeman. London will do all this imperceptibly. And, in externals, that is the high-water mark of achievement of the Modern Spirit.Edited to add that my friend Beth Rosenberg of UNLV notes that 1905 was the year of the Aliens Act, restricting immigration. How blind, how willful is this vision?
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
City of Immigrants
Ford’s The Soul of London (1905) has great praise for immigrants and the city’s ability to assimilate and absorb them. I hadn’t expected to find this sentiment about London of over a century ago; in spite of a different, more old-fashioned way of speaking about races, nationalities, and assmilation, (provincially) I tend to associate this sentiment—the wonderful metropolis that lets all become of it—with New York more than London: